Thursday, March 16

Who Gets the Apartment? by Steven Rigolosi

Review by Claire McManus

The premise of this first book in the new "Tales from the Back Page" series is the stuff of an urban nightmare.  A New York book editor, about to be thrown out of her rental apartment as it's about to go co-op, finds the apartment of her dreams - a duplex penthouse on Central Park for an amazingly low sum.  On move-in day, as she's about to pop open the champagne to celebrate, three more people attempt to move in.  Long story short - a rascal (with a grudge against the apartment's owner) has swindled them and made off with their money.

At that point, the four have to figure out "who gets the apartment," and they embark on a series of different scenarios to figure it out.  In one scenario, they create a competition that gets very ugly indeed.  In another, they decide to band together to track down the thief and get their money back.  The narrator warns the reader up front that only one of the scenarios is the real one, and the reader has to figure it out.  In the second half of the book, there is a sequel, "Good Boys Never Win," where we find out what happened ( i.e., who got the apartment) AND get another story about a plot to take down an incompetent power monger and his evil secretary (this section meet with cheers from three of our group members, who had all found themselves in that situation at one point or another in their lives).
Overall, my book club found this book enjoyable from start to finish.  The pages simply fly by.  The author has a light touch and a positive approach to humanity.  This isn't noir or hardboiled fiction, so (and I don't think this is a spoiler) you can be assured of a satisfying ending.  We also liked the details about the publishing industry (some of us are writers and it was good, if depressing, to see all of our fears validated about what goes on, and doesn't go on, at publishing companies).  We decided that the book reminded us of more traditional books where the plot is the key thing, instead of more modern books where the goal is intense character study, often with very depressing people as the protagonists (drug addicts, alchoholics, people who cannot love, etc.).   
Since we believe that all books can benefit from a little criticism, we wished we had known a little more about the characters' backgrounds.  One of the key characters is African-American, and there are a few secondary Latino and Asian-American characters, and we wished we had known more about them.  But several others pointed out that the book is so modern in that everyone sort of mixes together in an urban atmosphere, where background/ethnicity becomes less important than about shared experiences as New Yorkers.  In that way, a few of us saw a resemblance to the Alexander McCall Smith books -  the author doesn't get into huge amounts of detail, and lets the readers fill in the blanks.
We also wondered if the premise of the story is based on fairly sophisticated characters being too naive.  But most of us accepted it as a sign of their desperation for a place to live.  Finally, the "alternate scenarios" structure was lauded by 7 of us as something we haven't seen in a while; the other 2 preferred more traditional structure.  However, we all did agree we would like to spend more time with these characters and see what kinds of trouble they can get into in the future.


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